In late 1947 a train rolled into Philadelphia carrying a most important Christmas gift: food for the hungry in Europe. It was just two years after World War II, and Europe was suffering from food shortages. Drought had struck that summer slowing their recovery.
The American people were determined not to lose the post-war peace to hunger. So in the fall of 1947, they started the Friendship Train to collect food donations across the country to be sent overseas. Arriving in Philadelphia, the food was loaded on board the patriotic freighter The American Leader to set sail for Europe.
The ship arrived in France just in time for Christmas, unloading a precious cargo giving starving children food. The Friendship Train was part of the American people’s extraordinary outreach helping feed the war-torn nations. Ultimately it was this food that made the recovery possible through the Marshall Plan of 1948. As Secretary of State George Marshall himself said: “Food is the very basis of all reconstruction.”
As this Christmas arrives America’s generosity is needed more than ever. Around the globe, children are searching desperately for food to survive as the pandemic has worsened hunger emergencies. No other Christmas gift matters more than nutrition for the starving infant or a school meal to keep a hungry child from dropping out in order to search for food. A new report from Save the Children warns that pandemic related malnutrition “will kill an average of 153 children a day over the next two years if action is not taken.”
We must increase food aid overseas to tackle the biggest global hunger crisis since the end of World War II. It must start with child-feeding programs focusing on infant nutrition and school meals. Infants are vulnerable to deadly malnutrition and need life-saving foods like the high-protein Plumpy’Nut.
School age kids need meals to survive and stay in class, not be forced into hard labor to earn money for food. Infant feeding and school meals are needed worldwide.
But many children are missing these programs because of COVID-19 and lack of funding, denying them the basic meals many of us take for granted three times a day.
It is urgent that children receive the food they need, especially in the 25 nations facing devastating levels of hunger.
As the United Nations World Food Program director David Beasley said upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize: “Because of so many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse — 270 million people are marching toward starvation. Failure to address their needs will cause a hunger pandemic which will dwarf the impact of COVID.”
While we feed the hungry at home during the pandemic, we must also expand our overseas aid. Child feeding programs must have funding increases. Congress should expand infant nutrition and emergency school feeding. They should also increase the McGovern-Dole global school feeding program to at least $300 million in funding a year. Each of us can take action by donating to hunger relief charities, writing a letter to Congress urging global food aid, or raising funds for WFP at FreeRice.com.
This Christmas we can all open our hearts to feed the world’s hungry children. During this pandemic, it’s urgent.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the Washington Post, USA Today, History News Network, Chicago Sun Times and many other outlets.